Army increases in-flight situational awareness for rapid response forces

By on Thursday, May 1st, 2014

With help from the Army’s new in-flight internet and mission command capability, commanders of Global Response Force units will be able to plan missions in the air, while their Soldiers receive operational updates and watch full-motion video of upcoming drop zones before their parachutes ever open.

“The ability to understand a situation gives you the ability to take appropriate action, and if the GRF (Global Response Force) can understand a situation before they get to their drop location, then they can be more effective from the moment boots hit the ground,” said Lt. Col. Joel Babbitt, product manager for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T, Increment 1, which manages the new in-flight capability for the Army. “Instead of landing on the ground, analyzing the situation and developing execution plans, they can hit the ground executing.”

The joint GRF essentially consists of two components — the Air Force that supplies and sustains the C17 and C130 aircraft, and the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps, primarily the 82nd Airborne Division. The GRF needs to be able to rapidly deploy at a moment’s notice and effectively command and control forces from the air.

To help meet these requirements, the Army’s new Enroute Mission Command Capability, or EMC2, is being installed on C17 aircraft. The U.S. Special Operations Command, known as USSOCOM, which oversees the special operations component commands of each service, already has aircraft outfitted with their own version of this in-flight capability. The Army’s EMC2 system integrated on additional C17s would expand that initial USSOCOM capability, supporting the increased expeditionary nature of today’s forces.

The Army is scheduled be begin testing of EMC2 installed on the C17s at multiple locations this summer, and the capability is expected to pass the U.S. Air Forces’ stringent Safe to Fly Requirements by the end of August 2014. On the current timeline, equipment is expected to be issued to the XVIII Airborne Corps by the end of the calendar year.

EMC2 provides internet service, mission command applications, full-motion video, intelligence products and collaborative planning tools along with a complete office suite of computers and voice phones — all onboard an airplane. It enables en-route mission command, so that as the situation develops in the destination target area, commanders will be able to get updates, understand changes on the ground and be able to adjust their plan to accommodate for those changes, Babbitt said.

“It will be a transformation in the situational awareness and effectiveness of the GRF in the first several hours of ground operations,” he said.

One of the main components of EMC2 is the Fixed Install Satellite Antenna, or FISA, which provides the internet connection for the C17. Similar to the capability being used and implemented by today’s commercial airlines, FISA posed a low technical risk for Army adoption. From a frequency perspective, the Army is looking to utilize both Ku (commercial) and Ka (military) band in one antenna on the C17s for optimum bandwidth and efficiency.

“The FISA provides a fourfold increase in bandwidth so that a new host of services can be employed on board, increasing capability for GRF units to plan and maintain critical situational awareness in the air,” said Capt. Mindy Brown, EMC2 lead for PdM WIN-T Increment 1.

The U.S. military already has satellites, airplanes and drones that provide standard and high definition full-motion video. With EMC2, those feeds can now be displayed on board the aircraft on LED screens, along with integrated marquees and an intercom system.

“Being able to see the airfield where you are going to be landing, to see that drop zone, helps Soldiers get their heads fully into the operation so they are better prepared for the mission at hand,” Brown said.

The key capability of EMC2 does not just reside in the antenna, but also in the incorporation of the Key leader Enroute Node. It will provide airborne units with broadband reach-back data capability; secure Voice Over Internet Protocol communications between task force commanders and combatant commanders; as well as communication between aircraft.

“For the GRF, EMC2 is an absolutely disruptive technology to the traditional way of doing business, and will transform operations,” Babbitt said.

As part of the GRF mission, with the Air Force providing the aircraft, the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division has deployment-ready paratroopers and infantrymen who can provide an immediate military capability on the ground in a very short period of time to any location worldwide. In 1991, in its role as GRF, the 82nd Airborne was the first force on the front line between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, shortly after Kuwait was invaded by Saddam Hussein’s troops. The GRF was also activated for a humanitarian mission during the earthquake in Haiti, in 2010.

Well-equipped, rapidly deployable units such as the GRF are a vital part of the Army’s evolving force structure as it strives to become a leaner, more capable and expeditionary force. Advanced network capabilities such as EMC2 will continue to increase force mobility and agility by making it easier for Soldiers to get the information they need to be successful, anytime, anywhere.

“EMC2 will not only enable the Airborne Task Force commander to better understand developing situations, but it will also increase the situational awareness for all of the joint servicemen and women in the aircraft,” Babbitt said. “It really comes down to mental preparation and the ability to plan ‘on the fly.'”

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